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Nestled in an open, softly rolling landscape highly typical of central Spain, is the small town of Toro in the secluded part of Castile. Nothing would suggest that sleepy Toro is the buzzword on the Spanish wine scene. In fact Toro’s red wines are now exported to the USA and Canada. The United Kingdom has been importing Toro wines since mid 1990’s.

As early as the beginning of the Middle Ages, the full bodied wines of Toro were famous and widely appreciated. The pilgrims on the road to Santiago drank Toro wines to regain their strength. In 1208, Alfons IV, the King of Leon, gave large tracts of vineyard-suitable land around Toro as a gift to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, to cover the needs of clergy. At one time Toro wines were the benchmark of Spanish red wine.

In the 1890’s the region again started to flourish as large quantities of wine were exported to phylloxera-devastated France.  Hard times came to the region when famine struck and vineyards were converted to wheat production.

In the 1970’s, barely 5000 hectares of vineyards existed; today vineyards cover 60,000 hectares. Tinta de Toro, the main grape variety of the region, was brought into prominence by reducing yields and moving the harvest from October to September. This helped preserve acidity and reduce sugar content, which in turn led to less alcoholic wines. Gradually wineries improved their techniques and aging facilities, including barrels. By 1987 Spanish authorities felt secure enough to grant Toro Denominacion Origen status which in turn encouraged more wineries to invest in the region.

Toro’s sandy soil is covered with boulders and a chalky subsoil mixed with feldpar thick with sandstone. In the dry and barren soil phylloxera could never take hold, and to this day all the vines are on their original rootstock, something only a few regions in the world can claim.

The 2600 – 3000 sunshine hours per annum provide sufficient heat to ripen grapes fully and spraying is kept at an absolute minimum. Often, vineyards are never sprayed during the growing season, resulting in almost organic wines.
Tinta de Toro is a close cousin of the best red grape of Spain – Tempranillo. Tinta de Toro grapes are smaller than those of Tempranillo, thus yielding wines darker in colour, more tannic than other reds of Spain. Toro wines are highly extracted resulting in wines that can age for decades. But tannins are soft and integrated, making possible early consumption with roasts, particularly lamb and beef. Garnacha is used in small quantities in blends.

The bouquets of Toro wines display distinct notes of blackberries and cherries. Toro wines are always full-bodied with layers of flavours and possess a long, satisfying aftertaste.

The current boom started inconspicuously, as the world famous Vega Sicilia winery from Ribera del Duero began to buy land around Toro under an assumed name.

Bodegas Mauro, Bodegas Primica, and Sierra Cantabrica, all from Rioja, also bought vineyards and suitable land. All this attracted the attention of Lurton brothers from Bordeaux, and Alejandro Fernandez from Ribera del Duero and prompted them to buy existing vineyards.

Since then Toro wine prices have tripled and vineyard costs increase tenfold.
Soon Toro wines will be available in more countries at higher prices, but they still represent excellent value compared to those from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Montset.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu



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